Single Sex or Coed Education
In recent years, there has been an increased interest in single-sex education. Many people have begun to voice their opinion on the matter, some believing it is beneficial, and others arguing it is disadvantageous. In the article “The Bizarre, Misguided Campaign to Get Rid of Single-Sex Classrooms”, the author argues that single-sex education is the solution to many of America’s educational flaws. The author gives multiple arguments supporting the notion of a single-sex schooling environment. She gives evidence stating that girls and boys learn differently, and that single-sex classrooms allow each gender to thrive without distraction. The author also acknowledges the many arguments against single-sex education. Proponents of a coeducational schooling system believe isolating boys and girls is extremely harmful to their development, and that it reinforces gender stereotypes. Each of these arguments have strengths and weaknesses, but neither is fully correct. The true solution to this education debate lies between the two arguments; single-sex classes offered in a coeducational school system.
The argument supporting single-sex education has many strengths. In the article “The Bizarre, Misguided Campaign to Get Rid of Single-Sex Classrooms”, the author is a strong proponent of keeping classrooms single-sex. The author gives two main advantages to having single-sex classrooms. First, studies show that boys and girls learn in completely different ways. The author explains “Boys and girls, taken as groups, have different interests, propensities, and needs” (Sommers, 1). This means that children in coeducational facilities are being taught very inefficiently, because the school has to keep material relevant for both boys and girls. On the contrary, at single-sex schools the material can be tailored towards a specific gender. The next main advantage is that single-sex education increases student achievement. The author shares evidence found by Stetson University showing “Over the four years of the study, 55 percent of boys in coed classes scored proficient on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, compared with 85 percent of boys in the all-boys classes.” Females perform better when they are not competing with males. In coeducational classes, girls feel pressure to act dumb so that they will not appear brainy to the boys in class. They do not feel this pressure in a single-sex environment. Similarly, males do not feel pressure to try to impress females by clowning around or acting out in the classroom. This way greater attention can be focused on academics. Although the arguments made in the article strengthen the case for single-sex classrooms, the author overlooks many other potential benefits.
The benefits of single-sex education reach much further than efficiency and performance. It is proven that students in single-sex schools feel less pressure than their coeducational counterparts. This decrease in pressure results in many advantages for both males and females. Without the distraction of impressing females, males are less competitive and more cooperative. In addition, girls are more willing to speak in public, and exhibit higher levels of confidence and self-esteem. With this decrease in pressure, students will enjoy the learning environment more. This results in an increased attendance frequency because students look forward to school, rather than dreading to attend. Single sex education increases opportunities for leadership as well. In a female single sex environment, girls hold leadership positions that they might not have the opportunity to hold in a coeducational environment. Furthermore, males may be less inhibited to get involved and assume leadership roles in the absence of females. Another benefit of single-sex education is the ability to tailor the environment towards either males or females. This is advantageous because some studies indicate that females learn better in warmer temperature. While males tend to perform better in cooler environments. If this is true, then even the temperature of a single-sex classroom can be set to optimize the learning of either male of female students. The author also explains the opposition to single-sex education, but disagrees with every argument given.
I believe the argument opposing single-sex schooling has many strong points as well. In the article, the author describes the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) campaign “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” and its goal to “discredit and terminate gender-specific programs in American schools.” The American Civil Liberties Union thinks organizing schools by gender is equivalent to organizing schools by race. Their goal is to terminate all single-sex programs in America, by threatening the schools with expensive lawsuits and investigations. The author spends much of the article discrediting the claims made by the ACLU, saying “race and sex are different, as the Supreme Court has emphasized and as most everyone recognizes” (Sommers, 1). Although I do not agree with the extremity of the arguments made by the ACLU, I believe there are strengths in their reasoning. There are two major critiques made by the ACLU regarding single-sex education. The first argument is that “there is good evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism” (Kimmel, 1). They believe a single-sex educational environment inadvertently leads to the reinforcement of stereotypes. Assigning students of one gender to a class and using gender-based instructional techniques is evidence of the assumption that all students of the same sex are alike, and will respond in like fashion. Just because a boy is in the boys' class, does not mean that he is interested in physical activities. Likewise, all girls are not interested in collaborative activities that are used in girls' classes. The second argument made by the ACLU is that “There is no well-designed research that proves that single-sex education improves academic achievement” (Kimmel, 1). The coeducational proponents believe the research on single-sex education is a mix of contradictory findings that fails to cite any serious research. The research on classrooms is vague and unsettled. There are too many factors involved to come up with a strong conclusion. Results could depend on class size, length of school days, or even how much homework was assigned that particular day. The author counters this by pointing out “advocates on either side can find vindication in the research” (Sommers, 1). The arguments made by the ACLU are strong and concise, but they have overlooked many potential downfalls of the single-sex education system. They have also failed to express the potential benefits of the coeducational system.
The disadvantages of the single-sex school system stretch much further than stereotypes and performance. A major problem with this system is that it does not mirror real life. Real life means having to interact in a coed world. Single-sex education prevents students from developing social skills necessary for a coed world. Students of both genders should learn to work, think, and learn together during the formative years of their lives. Another problem with the single-sex education system is that few teachers are formally trained in gender specific teaching techniques. There would be no benefit for a gender specific class to be taught in a coeducational manner. In addition, gender differences in learning are not the same across the board. For a sensitive boy or an assertive girl, the teaching style promoted may be ineffective. For example, a sensitive boy may be intimidated by a teacher who speaks loudly and is tough on the students thinking “that’s what boys need to learn”. Similarly, an assertive girl would not be challenged by a teacher who is too passive or gentile. Finally, single-sex education groups all rambunctious little boys together so that teaching is almost impossible. A quiet and calm environment is impossible if only boys are in the classroom. An all-male class will not have the benefit of a good learning environment.
The arguments supporting and opposing single-sex education both have valid points, but they lack compromise. Those who are against single-sex education, such as the ACLU, refuse any solution but to eradicate it. Those who are for it, such as the author of the article, refuse to accept the possible disadvantages presented. The solution to this debate must be a neutral compromise between the two extreme arguments. I believe the solution to the debate is to offer single-sex classes within a coeducational school system. This would allow students to receive the best of both worlds. Students would have the opportunity to experience the single-sex class environment, without any potential downfalls. This system would eliminate the possibility of gender stereotyping, because only individual classes would be single-sex, rather than an entire school. There would be interaction between males and females at all times outside of the classroom, eliminating the “not real-world” argument. The classes would be completely optional, so students would not be forced into a single-sex class if they disagree with it. Therefore groups such as the ACLU cannot claim the students have no choice in the matter. Finally, students will be able to reap the performance benefits of a single-sex environment, without having to sacrifice any social aspects of schooling. In the article “The Bizarre, Misguided Campaign to Get Rid of Single-Sex Classrooms”, the author argues that single-sex education could resolve many of the educational problems that American schools face today. On the contrary, organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union believe single-sex education would make America’s educational woes even worse. Each argument, whether supporting or opposing single-sex education, has its strengths and its weaknesses. Although they are not able to compromise, the best solution to the debate is to offer single-sex classes within a coeducation school. This would allow students to gain a valuable experience, while not hindering their futures. With the recent increased interest in single-sex education, many concerned individuals are voicing their opinions. The tension between each side is very evident, and this reminds us of one thing, compromise is key.
Sommers, Christina Hoff. "The Bizarre, Misguided Campaign to Get Rid of Single-Sex Classrooms." The Atlantic. N.p., 4 Oct. 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013. Kimmel, Michael. "Don't Segregate Boys and Girls in Classrooms." American Civil Liberties Union. N.p., 12 Aug. 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.